Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wherein An English Major Explains Quantum Physics (Ok, That May Be Hyperbolic)

photo by Anna Reavis
“Gentlemen…you are arguing about words, not reality.”  Richard Dawkins
Over the course of the last month, I’ve read two works of science nonfiction both of which, unfortunately, have had a common theme.  The first was Stephen Hawking’s book, The Grand Design, and the second, which I am still in the middle of is The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins.  What I have found to be the unfortunate common theme is that both authors have had to explain why people should accept several fairly well-established scientific theories, one of which is evolution. The purpose of the entire Dawkins novel, in fact, is to attempt to convince people of the truth of evolution.  The Hawking novel deals with quantum physics and the birth of the universe, but even here Hawking has to address the issue of people who refuse to “believe” in carbon dating, among other scientific techniques.
I find it beyond disheartening that human beings still work to refute any new idea that falls outside of their established mental comfort zone. (See Galileo, circa 1633, among other issues.)  The way the world works doesn’t change just because we choose fuzzy math.  A  scientific theory describes a predictable, stable process by which, in our experience and based on our understanding of the world, something happens.  Even chemistry on some levels can be considered theoretical because not every reaction can be mathematically expressed and solved, but that doesn’t mean the reaction didn’t happen.  (Hawking)  Acceptance of scientific theories, then, is not properly termed “belief in.”  Acceptance of scientific theories simply means to acknowledge that the observable results validate the hypothesized process.   People have no problem flipping on a light switch and accepting that the resulting light is the product of a process called electricity, even though they don’t fully understand that process.  
Humans, by nature, want to see, understand, and intuit things.  In the case of quantum physics and in fact, in the case of many of the processes by which things came to be, this just is not possible.  We must accept the limitations of our brains, without lazily falling back on faith and religion.  There is no question that the easiest route is to throw up our collective hands and say, “God did it.  We can’t figure it out.”  But that is not the path to truth, even for intelligent believers.   Ask your own questions.  Do your own research.  Become a fully developed human being.  Don’t believe the propaganda.  Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.  Find out for yourself.


Rachel said...

I've always found it a little funny how people accept quantum physics when they criticize religion. I mean...I'm supposed to believe some guy in a white lab-coat that tells me that an object...a piece of mass...can move from point A to point B without moving anywhere in between? When I can't prove that on my own? Where do you draw the line between having faith in religion and having faith in scientific research that you don't understand. ("You" being a general term...not specifically YOU.)

I had a blog post a while back on this subject that you may find interesting.

Amy said...

As far as quantum physics, I don't think anybody KNOWS what is and isn't true, even quantum physicists. But as far as science in general, at least the methods are based on rationality, for the most part, and are tested and questioned. To me, that is VERY different from religious belief.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

The more I read of your blog, the more I find we have in common. Here's a blog post I wrote about quantum physics a few years ago.

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